Kendal, England band Wild Beasts first LP Limbo, Panto is an impressive debut record from a band that wears their influences on their sleeves, but never allows the influences to block their individual contribution to the thread their borrowing from. Limbo, Panto takes notes from 80s bands such as XTC, Talking heads, and The Chills, but at the same time also has a theatrical element to it a la Antony and the Johnson's or even Queen. This fusion of influences along with their ability to write adventurous jangly guitar pop with a hint of world music is what makes this album a pleasure to listen to, if not hard to classify.
Vocalist Hayden Thorpe's voice bears an uncanny resemblance to the voices of David Byrne and Andy Partridge, but with the howl and sneer of a late career Elvis Presley grasping for musical relevancy. At times throughout the album Thorpe over-emotes in his singing like he's auditioning for a musical on Broadway. His vocals drive the album throughout with his far reaching falsetto on some songs and low registered Tears for Fears baritone on others. Even though Thorpe's vocal style dominates throughout the album, the band does a nice job of balancing it with the instrumentation. It takes a couple of listens to get used to the vocals but it's refreshing to hear a singer in a rock band these days use his voice as an instrument and actually sing.
The diversity of tempos and styles contribute to what makes this album solid. From the waltz/pop of the opener "Vigil for a Fuddy Duddy" where Thorpe establishes his falsetto that floats lightly over the arrangement to the world music tinged "The Devil's Crayon", which sounds like an outtake from Fear of Music, this album runs through the aforementioned influences with a respect and cockiness that they have made the music their own. The theatrical stylings of songs like "The Club of Fathomless Love" make for a great arrangement, but the drawback of this is that the song feels forced. This would elicit a standing ovation during a musical, but on record it's a bit much. The song "His Grinning Skull" sounds like it should be placed on the intro credits of a mid-80s movie (this would be a good thing) with its pulsating bass line, piano treatments, and well-placed background coo's and ooh's. The albums final song "Cheerio Chaps, Cheerio Goodbye" is the musical equivalent of a drinking song for the drama/choir kids.
A good amount of today's contemporary bands have lost the battle in finding their voice through the framework of their influences (especially groups influenced by the 80s). The bands that avoid this pitfall takes the sound, works it, flips it, turns it upside down, and adds their thread. With Limbo, Panto Wild Beasts have created an album that relies on their influences but stands as something that is uniquely theirs.